Vegas Verdes: Our Gallinas River

Published September 19, 2019 in the Las Vegas Optic.

Our Gallinas River – one mapmaker called it a creek – is not as wide as the Missouri or as muddy as the Mississippi or as long as the Rio Grande, but it is our river. It runs through the center of town and it’s easy to take for granted. In past years, some heed was given to the River Park maintenance and features (think of the exercise stations along the river walk) however little was paid to the river itself. Now both are getting more sustained attention.

The Gallinas divides the town into East and West yes, but the bridges over it, which are many, unite the same town. The Riverwalk, a pathway left to us by the railroad, runs along the east side of the river and extends the length from Prince Street all the way north to El Camino Road (site of Stonehenge in Las Vegas). It is a lovely, scenic trail, greatly appreciated by Las Vegans. The discerning eye, however, can see where the river route has been altered over the years, and its bed and environs thereby distorted and degraded. The river has, after all, provided decades of sustenance and recreation and beauty.

Use has worn it down – it wants a refresher. Enter the Gallinas River Park Collaborative. It is a diverse group of individuals who, in 2015, began to organize around the shared vision of a reimagined and rebuilt community park and a revitalized river. They have been busy indeed! This and future articles will describe some of what the collaborative has already accomplished and some plans in the works. The articles will attempt to explain how our river developed its present diminished condition and to enlist the reading public in its restoration effort.

Riverfest

The third annual Gallinas Riverfest is Sept. 28, 2019. The day begins at 9 a.m with the all-important river clean­up. Volunteers are needed and will be rewarded with refreshments. The main event kicks off at 10 a.m. with the blessing of the river. As in previous years, the Riverfest is intended to celebrate and instruct. The Collaborative hopes that children in particular, will be inspired to involve themselves in the care of their Park. Organizers also expect to continue the community discussion about the appearance of the Park and its river. The now familiar laminated ·map of the river and its environs will be on display for all to make known their ideas for what’s wanted in the River Park of the future. Fishing is a popular and enduring pastime among young and old and it is the focus of this year’s Riverfest.

By the end of 2018, restoration was completed on a one third mile stretch of river south of Bridge Street. The work done added many new riffles and falls – river alterations that encourage an increase in dissolved oxygen and support insect growth. It also created 21 new pools. All of these changes revive and stimulate the fish population. Trout, especially, love the pools. For those who’ve never enjoyed the pleasure of catching their dinner, there will be plenty of opportunity to learn how it’s done. The State Department of Game and Fish will provide instruction in bait and spinner fishing – sometimes called traditional fishing. Volunteers from Trout Unlimited will teach fly fishing and demonstrate tying your own flies. Fishing students will also learn about the insects that live on the bottom of the river and upon which fish feed. All the equipment and supplies are provided. And best of all, NM Game and Fish has declared Saturday, Sept. 28, a free fishing day for the entire state – no license needed.

For the few not fishing, many other activities are scheduled throughout the day. Riverfest attendees will be able to learn about the medicinal and edible values of plants found along the river; they might begin to master the intricacies of chess or archery; they could become proficient at water coloring; and most important, participants can avail themselves of an educational guided tour of the river and discover all that has been done and will be done. and why it’s all essential. Any who have taken the tour in the past will want to take it again – this is not last year’s river you’ll be observing.

Several of the amusements are new this year. Children will be especially captivated by the pop-up playground they will themselves create. It is to be a temporary installation composed of cardboard boxes and tubes, swathes of fabric, willow, branches, and whatever else can be found. This flight of imagination can provide pointers for what may become a permanent though not traditional playground. Another activity sure to please is miniature boat building using common yet surprising materials: sponges, egg cartons, tin cans and wood blocks – in fact, anything that floats. The finished boats are to be launched at 2 p.m. downstream a little ways from the Bridge Street Bridge.

Popular entertainments from previous years will be back. Scheduled are musical programs by Josei No Seishin, Taiko Drummers and the Fireball Blues Band. A straw bale amphitheater will accommodate the performers and also serve to alert park planners regarding a possible permanent performance space. Yoga classes, a disc golf demonstration, chair massage, and the ever amusing duck race are all on offer.

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